Hurricane Dean Makes Landfall, Weakens
TULUM, Mexico — Hurricane Dean plowed into the Caribbean coast of Mexico on Tuesday as a roaring Category 5 hurricane, heading for the ancient ruins and modern oil installations of the Yucatan Peninsula.
The eye of the storm made landfall about 4:30 a.m. EDT near Majahual, a popular port with cruise liners located about 40 miles east-northeast of Chetumal and the Belize border, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
Dean packed winds near 165 mph and was moving west-northwest near 20 mph across the Yucatan peninsula, on course to reach by Tuesday evening the southern Bay of Campeche, where state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos decided Monday to shut down production on the offshore rigs that extract most of the nation’s oil.
State civil protection official Francisco de la Cruz described battering winds from his hurricane-proof offices in Chetumal just before the eye reached land.
“There’s a lot of noisy wind now with this creature all over us,” he said.
The Chetumal city Web site reported power outages as the hurricane knocked trees down across roadways and sheets of metal flew through the air.
Dean was the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall since Hurricane Andrew in 1992 in South Florida, the hurricane center said.
The hurricane killed at least 12 people across the Caribbean, picked up strength after brushing Jamaica and the Cayman Islands and became a monstrous Category 5 hurricane Monday. Forecasters said Dean was intensifying right up until landfall, feeding off the Caribbean’s warm water temperatures.
Category 5 storms – capable of catastrophic damage – are extremely rare. Only three have hit the U.S. since record-keeping began.
Meteorologists said a storm surge of 12 to 18 feet was possible at the storm’s center, which could push sea water deep inland. Heavy rains threatened to inundate the swampy region.
Central Mexico was next on the storm’s path, though the outer bands were likely to bring rain, flooding and gusty winds to south Texas.
Over the past three days, officials in Mexico have put more than 50,000 people on flights leaving various parts of the Yucatan peninsula, the federal Communications and Transportation Department said.
Though expected to escape a direct hit, Cancun still could face destructive winds, since the storm swirled over 75,000 square miles – about the size of South Dakota.
Associated Press Writer Jennifer Kay in Miami contributed to this report.